Paul Manafort’s Russia ties are far more extensive than was previously known

  • Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's flight records show that he traveled to Moscow at least 18 times while advising the pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, who later became Ukraine's president.
  • Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014, but Manafort continued advising Ukraine's Opposition Bloc — a political party that is considered even closer to the Kremlin than Ukraine's Party of Regions. 
  • Manafort's spokesman, Jason Maloni, said Manafort’s trips to Russia were “related to his work on behalf of" the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s "commercial interests.”

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, traveled to Moscow at least 18 times between 2004-2011, while he served as a top adviser to ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and the pro-Russia Party of Regions.

The flight records, which were obtained by McClatchy News from a government source in Kiev, suggest that Manafort's consulting work and business dealings were more closely linked to Russia than he has let on.

Manafort visited Ukraine at least 138 times between 2004-2015, according to McClatchy. He traveled to Moscow the most between 2005-2006, but took additional trips there through 2011.

RELATED: Paul Manafort through the years

Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort through the years
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Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort through the years
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort speaks at a press conference at the Republican Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as his campaign manager Paul Manafort (C) and daughter Ivanka (R) look on during Trump's walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort appears at a press conference at the Republican Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort talks to the media from the Trump family box on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Paul Manafort, senior advisor to Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, smiles as he talks with other Trump campaign staff after Trump spoke to supporters following the results of the Indiana state primary, at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump's senior campaign adviser Paul Manafort (L) walks into a reception with former Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, at the Republican National Committee Spring Meeting at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Florida, April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort listens to Ivanka Trump speak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21, 2016. (Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 20: A man with a security credential takes a selfie at the podium as Donald Trump, flanked by campaign manager Paul Manafort and daughter Ivanka, checks the podium early Thursday afternoon in preparation for accepting the GOP nomination to be President at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday July 20, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 19: Paul Manafort, advisor to Donald Trump, is seen on the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 19, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) Paul Manafort., Convention Manager, Trump Campaign, appears on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday April 10, 2016. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
NA.R.DoleMicCk1.081596.RG.Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole looks up from podium at balloons and television cameras as convention center manager Paul Manafort, at right, points out preparations for tonight's acceptance speech in San Diego, 08/15/96. (Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 21: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Lee Atwater, young Republicans political operatives who have set up lobbying firms. (Photo by Harry Naltchayan/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Yanukovych was ousted in 2014 amid widespread protests over his last-minute decision to reject a deal that would have fostered stronger ties between Ukraine and the European Union, and instead pursued closer ties with Moscow. Yanukovych fled to Russia when the protests escalated, but Manafort continued advising Ukraine's Opposition Bloc — a political party that is considered even more pro-Russia than the Party of Regions. 

Manafort's business dealings with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs have come under intense scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.

Manafort's trips to Russia are not the only ones that may be of interest to Mueller. He and his longtime Russian-Ukrainian business associate Konstantin Kilimnik reportedly traveled to Frankfurt in July 2013 on a private plane owned by Andrey Artemenko — a Ukrainian lawmaker who met with Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, and longtime Trump Organization adviser Felix Sater in January to present them with a Russia-Ukraine "peace plan" that involved easing sanctions. 

A federal grand jury indicted Manafort and his longtime business associate, Rick Gates, in October on 12 counts, including money laundering, tax fraud, and failing to register as foreign agents. Federal prosecutors said in a court filing that both men had received "millions of dollars" from Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs that would allow them "to live comfortably abroad" and therefore make them a flight risk.

Citing financial documents filed in Cyprus, The New York Times reported in July that Manafort was in debt to pro-Russian interests by as much as $17 million by the time he joined Trump's campaign team in March 2016. 

Manafort also has significant business ties to the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who signed a $10 million annual contract with Manafort in 2006 for a lobbying project in the US that Manafort said would "greatly benefit the Putin Government," The Associated Press reported in March.

Manafort's spokesman, Jason Maloni, told McClatchy that Manafort’s trips to Russia were “related to his work on behalf of Oleg Deripaska’s commercial interests.”

In July 2016, Manafort offered private briefings about the campaign to Deripaska in the hopes of resolving a years-long business dispute stemming from a failed business deal the two pursued in 2008 involving a Ukrainian TV company called Black Sea Cable.

Legal complaints filed by Deripaska's representatives in the Cayman Islands in 2014 said he gave Manafort $19 million to invest in the company, but the project fell through and Manafort all but disappeared without paying back Deripaska.

Deripaska's representatives were "openly" accusing Manafort of fraud and pledging to recover the money from him as recently as early 2016, according to the Associated Press. But they reportedly backed off the accusations shortly after Manafort joined the campaign in the spring.

'How do we use to get whole?'

Shortly after being named a campaign strategist in April, Manafort emailed his longtime employee Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian operative with suspected ties to Russian intelligence.

"I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?" Manafort reportedly wrote to Kilimnik.

"Absolutely," replied Kilimnik. "Every article."

"How do we use to get whole," Manafort responded. "Has OVD operation seen?"

Russia-linked entities dangled compromising information about Clinton to the Trump campaign at least twice after Manafort was enlisted to corral convention delegates in March 2016.

The campaign's stance on Russia's interference in eastern Ukraine did not seem aligned with traditional GOP orthodoxy, either: An amendment to the GOP's draft policy on Ukraine, which proposed that the GOP commit to sending "lethal weapons" to the Ukrainian army to fend off Russian aggression, was ultimately softened to say "provide appropriate assistance" before it was included in the party's official platform in 2016. 

The Trump campaign also did not provide a letter to the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America recognizing Ukraine's 25th year of independence after the fall of the Soviet Union, according to McClatchy. The Clinton campaign did.

A young campaign foreign policy adviser named George Papadopoulos was told in late April that the Kremlin had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails," according to court documents filed by Mueller and unsealed late last month. 

Papadopoulos asked Manafort in an email on May 21, after learning of the dirt, whether he could arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian officials: Russia has been eager to meet with Mr. Trump for some time and have been reaching out to me to discuss," he wrote.

Manafort forwarded that email to Gates, adding: "Let's discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal."

A few weeks later, Manafort attended a meeting at Trump Tower on the promise of obtaining similar Clinton "dirt" from a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer. 

Manafort's prominent campaign role and history of working with Ukrainian and Russia-linked entities apparently spurred the FBI to seek a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant to surveil him at least twice between 2014-2016. 

Manafort resigned as Trump's campaign chairman shortly after The New York Times reported that the pro-Russia political party he had worked for had earmarked him $12.7 million for his work between 2007 and 2012. Ukrainian prosecutors have said they've found no proof of illicit payments to Manafort, who has said he never collected the payments.

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